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For the third straight year, US News and World Report confirms what most University students already know: Princeton is No. 1.

The annual ranking — to be published next week — places Princeton at the top of the chart for having the best undergraduate programs at national universities with doctorate programs. Harvard and Yale tied for second.

"It is certainly nice to be recognized," said Marilyn Marks GS '86, University spokeswoman , "but we don't put much stock into those or any other rankings."

The rankings are based on scores in 16 different categories, which are individually weighted. Accounting for 25 percent of the total score is the peer assessment survey, in which academic figures from the participating universities rate the academic programs at their peer institutions.

Graduation and retention rates and the student teacher ratio, each comprise 20 percent of the final figure.

According to Richard Folkers, director of media relations at US News, the rankings are intended to help students choose the college that is right for them.

"A ranking provides important information to narrow the search to find the right school," he said.

US News has revised its survey method from its initial 1983 rankings when academic reputation was the sole category assessed.

"There is no such thing as a perfect way to do a survey," said Folkers. "Over the years we have come up with what we feel is the fairest way to assess schools."

In a new ranking category, Princeton placed sixth for undergraduate research/creative projects. This survey evaluates eight different programs including internship and first-year student programs. Princeton's engineering program, ranked by peer assessment, received a mere 12th place for schools whose highest degree is a doctorate.

According to the Princeton Review rankings published in "The 345 Best Colleges: 2003 edition," Northwestern provides the best overall academic experience for undergraduates, and Princeton ranks fourth. The rankings are based on surveys conducted on campuses, which reflect student opinions of their own school.

Also according to Princeton Review, Princeton was eighth to last for "little race/class interaction," meaning the University lacks much integration compared with other ranked universities.

But in another survey based on quantitative data, conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Princeton placed third for its diversity in an evaluation of the 26 leading universities nationwide. Criteria included enrollment and retention of black students and percentage of black professors in total faculty.

Regardless of the various ratings to which the University has been subjected, the administration advises prospective students to look beyond rankings.

"Certainly a lot of students look to rankings when choosing a university," Marks said, "but it is impossible for any ranking to capture whether any university is the best choice for any individual student."

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